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A Dairy Interesting Debate

by Mike Austin

Maybe it's in honor of the latest Star Trek movie, but in comparison to recent farm bills, the 2013 farm bill proposal has been moving through Congress at almost warp speed. The Legislation has already won approval in both the Senate and House Ag Committees and debate has reached the Senate floor.

And even though numerous amendments are expected to be brought to the floor, Senate Ag Committee Chair, Debbie Stabenow is confident they can get a bill through. The House looks to be a  tougher fight but unlike last year, the bill is expected to get its day on the Floor. House Ag ranking member Collin Peterson does expect some intensive debate with numerous amendments being introduced but he does feel when all is said and done the House will pass its version of the farm bill as well. 

However Peterson does expect the House and Senate versions to differ greatly, especially in the area of budget cuts and resolving those differences may get messy. Still he thinks a comprehensive farm bill can get through congress. One of the biggest stumbling blocks Peterson sees is in the area of dairy legislation. Even though both houses of Congress have approved the Dairy Security Act as the dairy option of choice. The measure is controversial since to be eligible for the margin insurance a producer must be willing to sign up for the market stabilization program which is a supply management measure that many in the state of Wisconsin feel will stifle their effort to grow their states milk production efforts. However Peterson says there has to be some measure that will prevent overproduction. He shared with farm broadcasters the fact that under the Dairy security Act the government is willing to insure a producers margin over feed costs, and the government is willing to help pay a part of the cost. In return, if milk production gets out of whack, producers need to pay to get it back in balance. however under the Goodlatte proposal dairymen would not only get the margin insurance but if we see overproduction it would ask the government to help pay the cost of getting it back into balance. Something Peterson says he can not justify or support.

Meanwhile organizations like the Dairy Business Association of Wisconsin counter that government dictating production controls is not good for producers or consumers. Executive Director of DBA Laurie Fisher states the big question here is not cost, but if dairymen want government to dictate how much milk they can produce. She adds while over production may be a problem in other states that is not the case in Wisconsin where processing plants need to import milk to continue to produce at capacity. She says the DBA and other dairy groups believe supply controls are not in the best interest of dairy producers or consumers. 

This certainly has made for interesting debate and even though the Dairy Security Act has the inside track, we are bound to be traveling a rather bumpy legislative road in the federal dairy policy process.